Live audiences at most concert, performing-arts venues not likely until mid to late summer

Published: May. 19, 2020 at 4:49 PM CDT
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For the performing arts industry in Kansas, the COVID-19 pandemic will leave many concerts and plays without a live, in-person audience until mid to late summer.

They were the first to close and likely will be the last to open.

Even though Kansas Governor Laura Kelly is gradually picking up the pace in reopening the state with the action taken Tuesday, venues say until they can safely host large groups of people, it doesn't make sense for them to open.

Under the state's current timeline with the governor's plan, the earliest venues could reopen is June 8, the earliest possible start of Phase 3. But with that still comes limits on how many people can gather in a crowd. For Venues like WAVE in downtown Wichita, it still won't make sense to reopen with the crowd limit at 45 people, as is the guideline for Phase 3.

"Our business is 100 percent reliant on large social gatherings," WAVE Operating Partner Adam Hartke who is also co-owner at The Cotillion in southeast Wichita. "Without the ability to gather in large groups, we have 0 percent revenue."

At venues like WAVE and The Cotillion, for an event to be profitable or just to break even, capacity needs to reach at least 75 percent. An opening with less than that isn't considered feasible.

"(We) lose more money if we open than if we stay closed (because) you have to consider all of the staff you'd have to bring in, the security, the extra cleanings," Hartke says.

For now, schedules for venues are as empty as their spaces.

"We currently don't have another even scheduled (until) Aug. 8, and that's if we're able to have it at that time," says The Cotillion General Manager Ryan Stevenson.

Without any concerts for fans to attend, The Cotillion estimates a loss of revenue in the hundreds of thousands. Even if reopening was around the corner, many acts and bands have postponed their shows for the rest of the year.

"There has been a tremendous drop-off with bands looking for dates for this year," Stevenson says. "A lot of it is looking toward 2021."

Forum Theatre Board Member Leslie Coates says this is a rare situation where the saying, "the show must go on," isn't actually true.

The Forum Theatre Company in downtown Wichita is looking at late September before shows resume, likely with a smaller audience.

"We're not going to be able to put up 120 people in that place," Coates says. "It will be pretty dramatically affected."

WAVE and The Cotillion are two of the founding members of the National Independent Venue Association that formed last month. The association says its main goal is to lobby federal lawmakers to help save the industry.

A survey of the association's 1,600 members shows that without help, 90 percent of them won't be able to survive if the current closure lasts another six months.

NIVA's campaign is called

and venues are asking people to visit the website and support the effort.

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